Choosing a gay wedding venue

Nicola Hill outlines the key choices you have to make and provides a list of useful questions to ask when choosing a wedding venue. She then gives examples of different types of gay-friendly venues where you can hold your civil partnership ceremony and reception.

Once you have an idea of budget and how many people you want to invite, you can start looking for a venue to accommodate your 500 close friends!

Your ideas about budget and how many guests you want might change once you start looking at venues, so keep an open mind. You may find you fall in love with a venue that can only hold 50 people.

You may be looking for a wedding venue to suit your theme or the timing of your wedding. For example, if you want a winter wedding, you might choose a castle that is dressed for Christmas, or a summer wedding would suit a country house with grounds.

Blairquhan castle

For the actual civil partnership ceremony, you can use any registry office or licensed wedding venue in the country. That means they hold a civil wedding licence, not an alcohol licence but obviously both are probably important!

All licensed wedding venues will have a limit on the number of people who can attend the ceremony, even if they can actually cater for more. You may want to choose a separate venue for the reception or invite some people to the ceremony and more to the reception.

There are over 3,500 licensed wedding venues in the UK ranging from castles to racecourses, hotels to country barns and even the London Eye. Some are promoting themselves as gay-friendly on our website.

Registry offices usually have a range of ceremony rooms for varying sizes of parties. This may be a small room with space for you and a couple of witnesses through to the rooms where the council meets.

Laura and I chose to hold the ceremony at Camden Registry office in the council chamber room, which is a large, oak panelled room with seats in the round - we liked the theatrical aspect of it. There was also a grand, marble staircase to sweep down in our long frocks. We held the reception in the Canal museum because you can choose your own caterers and supply the booze without paying corkage.

canall museum

You can find out where your local registry office is in England and Wales, by clicking here
in Scotland, by visiting this link
and in Northern Ireland, by clicking here

Wherever you decide to hold the event, you have to 'give notice' of your intention to have a civil partnership at your local registry office.

Questions to ask when you first contact a wedding venue

Have they had a gay wedding before?
Is the venue available on the required date or selection of dates?
Is the venue licensed to carry out civil partnership ceremonies?
Can they send you a brochure and price list?
What are the contact details for the nearest registrar?
How many people can the venue accommodate for the ceremony and catering?
How much overnight accommodation is available?
How many car parking spaces are available?
Can we hire the venue on an exclusive use basis?
Will there be other weddings on the same day?
Can we make a provisional booking?
When do we need to confirm?
How much do we have to pay as a deposit?
Does the venue have any special discount arrangements with local suppliers?
Can we see sample menus?
Are outside caterers allowed?
If the venue is open to the public, when is it available for hire?
What are the contingencies if the weather is bad?
Where is the nearest public transport/airport etc.?
Do you have to pay extra for the hire of tables, chairs, linen, dance floors?
Are there any restrictions, for example, no stilettos, no red wine, no children, no disabled access?
Can they give you ideas for themes or decoration from other weddings?
Do you need to hire any technical equipment such as lights or a PA system?

To get some idea of price you can ask the following:

Cost of room hire for ceremony
Cost of room hire for catering
Starting price for wedding packages - what does this include?
Cost of a bottle of house white
Cost of a bottle of house Champagne
Any minimum spend on catering
Minimum cost of a sit down meal per head
Minimum cost of a buffet meal per head
Any corkage cost if you are allowed to supply alcohol
Cost of accommodation
Any extra costs, for example, hire of cake stand and knife
Do prices include VAT?

More detailed questions before you book the venue

Do you allow confetti to be thrown at the venue?
Can we bring our own band or DJ?
Do you allow candles to be lit in the reception room?
Do you allow professional firework displays at your venue?
Do you have landing permission if we want to arrive by helicopter, balloon or private jet?
Do you offer the option of a marquee?
Are there separate rooms provided for the wedding, reception, meal, evening reception?
Is there a changing room provided for the day?
What is the latest finishing time?

Questions to ask in the build up towards the big day

When can suppliers have access to begin setting up the rooms eg florists, decorators, DJ?
Is there any crèche or babysitting facility?
When does the reception room need to be cleared the next day?
Is there somewhere safe to store presents?
What is the checkout time from accommodation?
Can the venue provide someone to act as the master of ceremonies for the day?
Does the venue have a Public Address (PA) system for speeches?
What are the arrangements if the weather is bad?
Where are the best photo opportunities?
Does the venue supply any flowers or decoration?

Types of venues

Hotels

The vast majority of licensed wedding venues are hotels with a choice of sizes of rooms for the ceremony and catering. The advantage is your guests don't need to stagger far for their accommodation and even if you don't want to stay there you are usually offered a complimentary room to change outfits, have a fag break or escape from Auntie Maud.
From my experience of working in hotels, there are usually some gay people among the staff, so you should feel welcome.

Many hotels offer wedding packages with a per head price that includes drinks, food, room hire, accommodation and all the services you would expect. They usually have a wedding co-ordinator who will talk you through all aspects of the day and can arrange florists, DJs, red carpet, help with seating plans and be the master or mistress of ceremonies on the day.

There are hotels from Cornwall to the Shetland Islands promoting themselves as gay-friendly. The Hotel Felix in Cambridge has quite a masculine feel with a statue of a naked torso over a fireplace. Top hotels in London such as the The Rubens at the Palace and the The Goring Hotel are very welcoming to gay and lesbian clients.

Goring hotel
The Goring Hotel

Sporting venues

Many sports venues have excellent catering facilities and some are licensed to hold weddings. They can often hold large parties and could tie in with a theme or your favourite hobby. Venues range from football clubs and racecourses to golf, sailing and rugby clubs.

Gay-friendly football clubs include Hibernian in Edinburgh, which can cater for 240 guests.

Epsom Down's Queen's Stand, based in Surrey, has has a number of suites available for civil partnerships and receptions with magnificent views over the racecourse. Another option is Sedgefield Racecourse.

sedgefield racecourse
Sedgefield Racecourse

When we were setting up gay-friendly-wedding-venues.com I was nervous about approaching golf clubs. However, we found some were very welcoming and several have signed up to promote themselves as gay-friendly. These include Mannings Heath on the South Downs and Three Rivers Golf and Country Club in Essex.

The only thing you have to be aware of with sports venues is clashing with fixtures, which often take place on the weekends. But they can provide a grand and stylish setting, with exclusive use mid-week or outside the sport's season.

Universities and colleges

If you fancy sipping Champagne in the quad and being punted off down the river to your honeymoon, a number of universities have wedding licences, including some Oxford and Cambridge colleges. You may be restricted to having a wedding outside term time, but given the long holidays, this isn't not too much of a bind.

Universities that are promoting themselves as gay-friendly include the University of Hull and Craighouse Napier University in Edinburgh, which has a Baronial hall and minstrel's gallery - perfect for a Ceilidh.

Galleries and museums

Add a little history to your special day by holding your civil partnership in a museum or gallery. At least if the guests are bored by the speeches, they can wander around the exhibits - some of the relies might even be accepted as relics!

Laura and I opted for the London Canal Museum, mainly because you could supply your own booze, but we liked the fact that it was unusual and had a bit of history. It used to be an icehouse, where merchants stored produce that had been shipped by canal before it was sold on. There are interesting exhibits inside the museum including a life-size shire horse that neighs from time to time, a canal boat and an old-fashioned delivery bicycle.

Ships, boats and piers

If you fancy a nautical theme or a captain in uniform, how about a wedding aboard a boat. You can go cruising . . . down the Thames on boats chartered from Absolute Pleasure Boats or Thames Leisure Ltd. Both companies are gay-friendly and can cater for over 240 people, although you can't actually hold the ceremony on the leisure boats. You can also sail on the Solent near Southampton on the Princess Caroline ship. The captain will even perform a special captain's blessing - something a bit different.

Or get married at sea, well almost, on the end of a pier, doing your French Lieutenant's Woman impression. Brighton, Hastings and Southwold Piers will oblige this fantasy.

Castles and palaces

Imagine tying the knot in a romantic castle in the highlands of Scotland. The National Trust of Scotland has been a keen supporter of civil partnerships since the law changed and has a number of castles licensed to hold gay weddings. Guthrie Castle, near Dundee, looks like something out of a fairy tale, with multiple turrets, its own loch, manicured lawns and a golf course. As with many castles, you have to hire it on an exclusive basis, which can set you back a few bob but does provide you with perfect privacy.

guthrie castle
Guthrie Castle

Some castles are privately owned such as Fingask Castle in Perthsire and Blairquhan Castle in South Ayrshire can provide a unique insight into how the other half lives - why not pretend to be queens for the day!

Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire also hosts gay weddings and provides a fabulous setting. They can host weddings with a pink theme with pink fairy lights around the organ in the long library and huge urns in the hallway filled with pink flowers. The ceremony can be held in the Orangery and you can have your photos taken on the bridge overlooking the ornamental lake or by the water terraces.

Marquees

If you have a garden big enough or can borrow a friend's garden or field, why not have your wedding reception in a marquee. They don't need to look like boy scout tents, there are specialist companies such as the Arabian Tent Company that will decorate them in an Eastern, Moroccan, Spanish or even Bollywood style.

You could have beautiful Arabian carpets, luxury cushions for lounging or dining, lanterns, lamps and shiny brass tables. Saves you travelling abroad and creates a special atmosphere. Some venues that have smaller rooms for the ceremony often offer a marquee for the party so you can entertain more friends.

Restaurants

If you love your food and want to have a memorable meal to celebrate your civil partnership, why not hold the reception in a stylish restaurant. Most restaurants don't have a wedding licence but you can hire them exclusively for your own party. You can often use a private function room within a restaurant if you want an intimate celebration through to taking over the whole venue and entertaining around 500 guests.

Restaurants in London include the Coq d'Argent with a roof garden overlooking the City and the Almeida in Islington.

The Il Tocco restaurant in Bath is a stylish Italian option.

However, in any restaurant or venue, you aren't allowed to serve food or drink before a civil partnership ceremony, in case you are inebriated by the time you sign on the dotted line!

Arts venues

If you like a bit of drama, a number of theatres have civil wedding licences, for example, the Southport Theatre in Merseyside, the Soho theatre in London and the Empire theatre in Liverpool.

You can also get married in some cinemas, galleries, concert halls, arts centres or film studios. Those with licences include the famous Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire.

Choosing an arts venue adds some panache to the day with your guests having a private viewing of art galleries or perhaps a screening of a favourite film.

Spas

If you want a truly relaxing wedding, you can hold your civil partnership in a spa. Treat yourself to a mud wrap, thermal bath or dip in an ozone pool before you tie the knot. You can't actually hold the ceremony in the spa but most are located in hotels, so you can have the formalities in the function rooms and then get your kit off for an unusual reception.

A spa is also a good place to hold your hen or stag nights, some have specific days or nights for each gender. There are over ten gay-friendly spas, including the Stoke by Nayland in Suffolk, Bodysgallen Hall in Wales and New Park Manor in the New Forest.

Gay venues

To be completely assured of a warm welcome, you may want to hold your wedding or reception in a gay pub, club, hotel or restaurant. Some have wedding licences, such as the aptly named Over the Rainbow, a country house in Ceredigion, Wales. It has a ballroom, where you can hold the ceremony for up to 40 people.

over the rainbow
Over the Rainbow

Most major cities including Manchester, London, Blackpool and Brighton have gay areas with a range of pubs and clubs - many can be hired for private functions and will already be themed to save you decorating them. They will also have sound systems and resident DJs to make sure your party goes with a swing.

If you are new to an area, look out for rainbow flags or stickers in windows, or check out the internet or magazines for local gay listings.

Country houses

If you want a venue on an exclusive use basis, with plenty of privacy, hiring a country house could be a good answer. Silchester House in Berkshire is an example of a gay-friendly venue, where you can hire the whole house for the weekend, including accommodation and a marquee.

You can also hire historic country houses for the day, such as Anne of Cleves House in East Sussex, where you can arrange your own caterers and supply your own booze.

If you love a sense of history, a country house can add a touch of class to your wedding day. One gay-friendly venue packed with antiques is Egerton Grey House in South Glamorgan, which also has a croquet lawn to add to that place in the country feel.

Religious buildings

Following a recent change in the law you are now able to hold a civil partnership in a religious building as long as the building has been licensed by the local authority.

There are also a number of buildings that have a wedding licence that are former churches or have a spiritual or religious connection. For example, the Lost Village of Dode in Kent, has a 650-year old marriage room, which is very much like a church with pews and an altar.

You can also have a blessing after the civil ceremony, by hiring a celebrant who is willing to officiate. There are some from different denominations advertising on our blessings page page.

Zoos and safari parks

Why not add a few pink flamingos or giraffes to your wedding list by holding your civil partnership at a zoo or safari park. You can tie the knot at gay-friendly Port Lympne Mansion in Kent and take your guests on a safari ride afterwards.

You can also get married at London Zoo in a room next to Bear Mountain and have your canapés in the Komodo Dragon House. Other zoos with a wedding licence include Chester and Bristol.

Airports

Believe it or not, you can actually get married at an airport. Shoreham Brighton City Airport is a gay-friendly venue with a civil wedding licence. It has an art deco building overlooking the runway. If you have a pilot licence, you can take off on your honeymoon straight away! You can also tie the knot in the Concorde viewing lounge at Manchester Airport.

Village halls and community centres

A good budget option is to have your wedding in the local village hall, especially if friends and family can help with the catering and decorating. You can probably supply your own booze so that knocks down the price. Some also offer discounts if you live locally.

You can also get caterers in which saves you having to clear up after your own wedding. Think about whether you need to hire a bouncer or someone to keep an eye on security, especially if you have presents or guests' belongings on show. Another thing to think about is someone hosting or managing the event for you, perhaps hiring a toastmaster or appointing a guest as a master of ceremonies, because unlike other venues you may not have someone in a management role.

Some village halls have wedding licences so you can conduct the whole event there but that usually makes them twice as expensive to hire. The lesbian mecca of Stoke Newington in north London has a community centre, Abney Hall, which has a wedding licence. A useful website is www.hallshire.com, which lists over 400 village halls for hire.

Barns

If you like a bit of line dancing - I've seen many a gay couple slapping thighs at Pride events - you could hire a barn for your wedding. There are over 20 with wedding licences, some in magnificent surroundings. The Priory in Hertfordshire is a tithe barn, built in 1540, with its own moat - very romantic. The Dark Barn in Gloucestershire is another gay-friendly wedding venue, which is a 400-year-old restored barn.

Farms

Another type of venue that conjures up Country and Western themes is down on the farm. They offer a rural, isolated setting, with plenty of privacy and space. There are over 20 farms that have wedding licences around the UK. Gay-friendly South Farm in Hertfordshire offers exclusive use and can cater for up to 250 people.

south farm
South Farm

Gardens or parklands

If you love the outdoors, there are over 40 venues in the UK with a wedding licence that are set in extensive gardens or parklands. Arley Hall and Gardens, owned by Viscount Ashbrook, is a spectacular place to tie the knot.

Strictly speaking a civil partnership has to be indoors, however, it is only the signing of the register, which is the legal part. Some venues have engineered it so that the ceremony starts on the terrace overlooking the gardens, with a welcome or reading and then the couple go inside for the formalities, although guests can still hear the proceedings outside. They then go back out to exchange rings in front of the guests.

Private clubs

If you like that exclusive feel, you can hire a number of private clubs for your civil partnership ceremony. These are mainly in London and include The Caledonian Club in the heart of Belgravia, the Landsdowne in Mayfair and the Century Club, which also caters for Jewish civil partnerships. The The Park House Club, a magnificent city centre mansion, overlooks the gardens of the Welsh National Museum. Further afield there is the Yacht Club Cala D'Or in Majorca.

Associations and institutions

Again, these are mainly in London and are often grand buildings that house industry-specific institutes. Examples are Middle Temple, an Elizabethan hall in London where barristers meet and the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal Institute of British Architects.

If you want a grandiose setting in the heart of London, Merchant Taylors Hall in the City is one of the Great Twelve livery companies surviving from medieval times. The hall has sumptous oriental carpets, long dining tables and chandeliers. It also has a beautiful courtyard garden. You have exclusive use of the venue and it can host up to 290 people for both the ceremony and reception or up to 400 for a buffet.

Private schools

You can go back to school for your wedding as over 20 schools have civil wedding licences. These include Bradfield College, set in the idyllic Berkshire countryside.

Bradfield college
Bradfield College

Pubs or Inns

There are over a hundred pubs that have a civil wedding licence and of course, you can usually hire a private room upstairs or take over the whole venue for a reception. Gay-friendly pubs with a wedding licence include the Bell Inn in Stilton, Cambridgeshire and the Black Horse Inn in West Yorkshire.

Railway Stations

If you are a real trainspotter, you can tie the knot at over eight different railway centres. One example is Horsebridge Station, a charmingly restored Victorian Railway station in Hampshire. Reception drinks are held on platform 1 with further celebrations in the marquee.

Visit our Unusual wedding venues page for more examples of unusual gay-friendly wedding venues.